2017-07-26 / Front Page

County officials approve merger of Morgan & Berkeley health boards

by Kate Shunney

Morgan County Health Department Morgan County Health Department The Morgan County Commissioners have approved a plan to combine the local health board with the Berkeley County health board in an effort to cut administrative costs and bring more services to Morgan County residents.

Commissioners voted unanimously last Wednesday, July 19 to back the move, which has been discussed for more than a year. The Berkeley County Council approved their health board’s request to merge with Morgan County earlier this month.

The Morgan County Board of Health has operated independent of Berkeley County since July 1989. Before that, the two counties had a combined District 6 Board of Health.

Creating a single Board of Health would allow the two county health departments to share costs, increase services to residents and eliminate duplicated administrative duties, said Angela Gray, Morgan County Health Board President and a Berkeley County Health Nurse.

Gray said the move won’t mean any staffing cuts in Morgan County. Currently, the health department staff includes five regular employees: Tim Ziegler, Sanitarian; Melissa McCumbee, Environmental Dept. Clerk; Patty Caldwell, Health Nurse; Dana Ryce, Medical Department Clerk and Cathy DeLawder, Office Manager/ Secretary. Kevin McLaughlin is the county’s Health Officer.

Gray told commissioners that the state’s Health Department has announced it will push for regional health boards across West Virginia in the future.

By joining up now, Berkeley and Morgan counties could be ahead of that effort and avoid being forced to combine, said Health Department Director Bill Kearns.

Gray said that Kearns can show that local tax dollars invested in the Morgan County Health Department will stay in the county. The County Commission contributes $35,000 each year to health department operations. The county also houses the health department offices at the former hospital.

Kearns has served as a part-time administrator for Morgan County for the last four years. He is the full-time director for the Berkeley County Health Department.

“Morgan County cannot afford to have a fulltime director, nor do you need one,” said Kearns.

Combining the two Boards of Health will consolidate the department’s budgets, administrative paperwork and make it easier to seek grants and funding, said Gray.

“We can either be ahead of the curve or wait until the legislature gives commissioners to power to mandate it,” Kearns said.

He said the combined board could have 10 members – five from Morgan County and five from Berkeley County.

Currently, both Berkeley and Morgan county have five-member boards: Angela Gray, Jane McCloud, Sanford Bienen, Barbara Wolfe and Dave Hansen.

Berkeley County board president Mary Jane Rinard attended last Wednesday’s commission meeting as a show of support for the consolidation.

Commissioner Bob Ford said he would only consider a combined board that had equal representation for both counties.

Gray said a combined Board of Health wouldn’t look at health issues on a county basis.

“We’d have one board that’s looking at the best health of the population as a whole. It’s not us and them,” said Gray.

Kearns said the consolidation will let Morgan County Health Department offer some services to local residents that they can’t get now because of a limited budget.

“We can’t offer a lot of services to people with private insurance because we don’t have the capital to purchase supplies and equipment, then wait for an insurance company to reimburse us two or three months later,” he said.

Kearns and Gray said Morgan County residents could see more services for women’s health, immunizations and screenings for people who have private insurance.

Creating the combined Board of Health requires three steps, Kearns said. The first two – getting approval from each Board of Health and then approval from the County Commissions – are now complete. The third step is an approval by the state’s Commissioner of Health.

Kearns said the goal is to put the consolidation into effect by the end of the 2018 fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2018.

Commissioner Ken Reed said he supported the move if it could “shrink government and save money.”

“If we don’t do something, there will be fewer services for our residents,” said Ford.

“I wish Morgan County residents could have all of the services available to Berkeley County residents. This is a way to make that happen,” said Gray.

Morgan County Health Board member Barb Wolfe said the two county health boards unanimously agreed to join together.

“It’s a way for us to share resources and keep our department alive,” she said.

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And using this exact same

And using this exact same logic, why does there need to be at least 55 (the number of counties in WV) separate school systems in West Virginia - a small and sparsely populated state, with an aging and decreasing population, with very limited funding resources? Currently, each of those 55 (county) school system has it's own school board, it's own Superintendent, it's own bus system, it's own set of teachers, counselors, maintenance staff, and their own individual (55) budgets (along with all the individual program and financial administrators needed to manage and execute those 55 different budgets and systems). What a waste of scarce resources combined with huge duplications of effort. Each of those 55 counties are currently having to create, fund, and operate identical infrastructures, no matter whether there are 1,500 or 5,000 students. Many states have adopted "regional" school systems that cross county lines and are organized by geography and demographics rather than by arbitrary county boundaries. Wouldn't there be substantial "efficiencies and economies of scale" to be gained if many of the more rural county school systems in the state combined together to serve regional students needs in larger geographical areas, rather than on a county by county basis?